Not everyone can claim they’ve personally seen a red-suited man fly around the globe in a sleigh once a year to throw presents down their chimney, but for residents at Wesley Enhanced Living, Santa Claus is very real.
Since 1996, senior residents have grown to look forward to wrapped presents and stuffed stockings waiting outside their door on Christmas day. That year, Northeast native Harry Bodkin noticed many of his fellow residents spent the holidays by themselves. Listening to his inner Santa Claus, he distributed small wrapped gifts to the residents to give them some holiday cheer.
The simple act evolved into a holiday tradition as other residents and staff joined him, and that tradition is going stronger than ever in 2018. Bodkin’s granddaughter Jennifer Anderson has taken over leading Stockings for Seniors, and this year gathered over 50 volunteers to distribute presents to a record 600 residents. This is an especially big year, doubling 2017’s total of about 300 residents.
For Anderson, seeing the happiness it brings makes it worthwhile.
“One year a Pennypack resident left an anonymous letter outside my door about how much it meant to him to receive that stocking after losing his wife this year,” she said. “It was an amazing feeling this year.”
When Bodkin passed away in 2005, he asked his daughter (Anderson’s mother) and Anderson to keep the tradition alive. Stockings for Seniors: In Memory of Harry Bodkin continues in the not-so-secret Santa’s name.
“In 1999 he dressed up in a Christmas bow tie with white hair and a bright green shirt and walked down the hallway on Christmas Eve to put out the stockings,” Anderson said. “Someone shouted out if that was their stocking. He was known as the secret Santa.”
Anderson and the volunteers raise funds and purchase small gifts year-round. They host beef and beers and receive donations from local businesses to help raise money. Residents and staff will also put on fundraisers like jewelry and bake sales.
The gifts are comprised of mostly small items such as toiletry items, food and candy and even fuzzy socks. Residents will receive their gifts over the next couple of days, or wait for a present-opening party happening on Christmas day.
Carrying on Bodkin’s legacy is an important part of the family – one that is already spreading to the next generation.
“My 10- and 5-year-old helped out this past week with wrapping the presents,” Anderson said. “My 10-year-old said he wants to take over when he’s bigger.”
Even though her son never met Bodkin, his tradition will live on through him.
“It’s his legacy,” Anderson said. ••